Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vacation Day 3: Widow's Walk on the Appalachian Trail

Wed morning we made pancakes with fresh Vermont blueberries, pure Vermont maple syrup, and Green Mountain Eye-Opening blend coffee. We were then joined by my children's relatives: ex-brother-in-law Andrew and his wife Jamie and kids Ember, and Mesa, as well as my ex-mother-in-law. They are a very sweet family with two darling kids.

Andrew (carrying Ember), Saarya, and I hiked a part of the Appalachian Trail that runs right by where we are staying, up to the summit of a nearby mountain (hill, really), at the top of which is a small cabin for use by hikers. The cabin has a widow's walk on its roof, from which you can see valleys, rivers, and mountains all around.

Dinner was BBQ'd hamburgers and asparagus, and a fire that burned under the clear night sky. I'm reading a copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire that I found in the cabin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vacation Day 2: The Game Professor and the Cave

The Game Professor

In the morning I navigated the Boston MTA, made famous by The Kingston Trio in their 1950s song about poor old Charlie stuck on train due to a proposed fare increase to charge people an extra nickel for getting off the train. Today's MTA uses the "CharlieCard" on all of its services. They're free. With one, I took a bus to the subway and then the subway back to a bus for $2.55 (more than Charlie would have paid, but reasonable by today's standards); without one, the cost would have been significantly higher.

I met the brilliant and gracious Sebastian Deterding at the Pavement Coffeehouse on 44 Gainsborough St in Boston. Sebastian wrote several important sources about gameful design that I used for research on my book. I wrote to him as a stranger, asking if I would be able to catch him lecture or if he would be willing to meet a fan for coffee, and he agreed to coffee.

I wasn't sure what the conversation would be - maybe I would interview him for my blog - but it ended up being about the central tenets of my book. He is the first person in my field with whom I have discussed my ideas. He is not only more educated that I; as a professor he is able to discuss it with a depth that I struggled with, since I live outside of academia. It was awesome (for me, at least).

We talked for 90 minutes. He asked deep questions that presented deep challenges. My ideas held out pretty well, but I need to address these challenges - in the book, or at least for my own sake, in order to be sure that I know what I'm talking about. For example:

I propose a new definition of "game" that I feel captures the essential aspect of game more rigorously than any previous definition. For one thing, my definition describes what a game "is", not what it contains. Sebastian asked me if, in my definition, a game was a) a fundamental reality, in which case "game" pre-existed mankind and humans discovered it, or b) a
human construct, in which case game could be more or less different from culture to culture, or c) my own convenient grouping of ideas/activities, in order to provide new insights into the other topics I cover in my book.

Although I had already written a bit about why I was attempting to define "game" in the book, I had not thought about asking these questions, and thus I had been moving back and forth among these usages without thought. This is the kind of insightful analysis you get from years of experience in defending and presenting your thoughts in academia, and which Sebastian generously shared with a complete stranger in a coffeehouse. I am very grateful.

When I got home, Tal told me that my hair was sticking up and my shirt was on backwards and inside out.

New England

We bought a BBQ, and some kosher food at The Butcherie, and ate at the nearby Taam China kosher Chinese restaurant for lunch. We headed out for what was supposed to be a three hour drive but ended up being a five and a half hour drive through beautiful New England. Once we were far away from Boston, most of our drive was through small towns and one lane highways through the woods. Very beautiful. However, without GPS, we still either got lost or occasionally thought we were lost and had to stop to figure out where we were going.

In one of those stops we managed to connect to Wi-Fi for around 4 minutes, and during that time Saarya was able to download the destination, the navigation, and many of the maps on the route. The phone's GPS works even without Wi-Fi or cellular connection, so long as all of that is pre-loaded onto the phone and so long as you stay on route. It helped us get back onto my pre-printed route. If we were not scheduled to meet the person whose cabin we were renting at a particular time, I would have stopped several more times to wander around in antique stores, roadside vegetable stands, and several pretty lakes and streams. Once you get into Vermont, the vegetable stands become maple product stands. We met the guy and he was willing to wait while we picked up some more food items.

The Cabin

It's really a cabin in the wood that the guy had built himself. Stunning setting and a beautiful property, it lacks only Wi-Fi, telephone, and a bathroom. It uses an outhouse. There is only cold water piped in from the stream into tanks. He provides a bathtub to use - outdoors - with only cold running water. For hot water, you have to fill up some buckets, lower heating coils into them, and wait. This kind of setup might be a first for my kids, and it's been a long time for me, too. We were able to use the Wi-Fi from the house next door, which also  belongs to him.

Dinner was BBQ'd chicken and farmer's market vegetables.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vacation Day 1: A Laser Light Show in a Toxic Atmosphere

Tal, Saarya, and I were not overly impressed with Alitalia.

I have never flown and spent less time in the airport terminals. We were delayed by traffic on the way to the airport and had only five minutes spare before security and maybe ten minutes after security. I have free business credit card access to the Dan Trackline lounge, which I thought we could all use, but it turns out I would have had to spend 90 NIS each for the kids for those 10 minutes.

Our first flight to Rome was delayed getting out of the gate, though it was unclear why since everyone was onboard and seated. Because of that delay, we missed the take off window and had to wait for another. We lifted off an hour late. No screens on the small plane (Airbus 321), but we did get a meat meal for breakfast (both corned beef and lox, in separate containers), which surprised me; a positive mark for them, but meat? Many of our neighbors didn't eat their breakfasts (I don't know if it was not kosher enough, or just that it was meat for breakfast), so we ate some of theirs as well.

We had a connecting flight in Rome which I thought was scheduled to leave an hour earlier than it actually was. I thought it was supposed to leave at 2:30, but it was scheduled to leave at 3:20. It turned out I was incorrect and it had always been scheduled to leave at that time. Nevertheless, I messaged everyone from Rome that we were going to be an hour late. Which was wrong.

We had to go through security AGAIN in Rome, which made no sense, since we originated outside the country, continued outside the country, both flights were Alitalia, and there was no chance for anyone except for the airport security to hand me an Uzi between getting off the plane and stepping through security again. We had two whole minutes in the airport, and then our flight left ... wait for it ... an hour late (4:30), because a passenger checked in a bag and didn't board the plane, or so they said. So the message I sent ended up being accurate after all.

This flight had no personal screens, but it had about six of those old-fashioned CRT main cabin screens that flip down. Ours didn't until I went over to it and hit it. Then it violently shook until I hit it again (just call me Han Solo). The screen was nearly unwatchable, like watching 1970s VCR recordings on a malfunctioning TV (scrolling bottom to top with static bands across the middle). The screen four in front of us got their own laser light show. Every screen showed the same clips but in entirely different colors.

The safety instructions played: "Welcome aboard Alitalia airlines, where [freeze] ... [unfreeze] your comfort and [freeze] [wobble] safety are our top concerbabburble [freeze] [flash] [blank] Welcome aboard Alitalia, where ..."

The first movie was the new Cinderella (or maybe it was Patton; it was hard to tell). It wasn't bad but it was totally unnecessary for the world to have this movie as it adds nothing new. The second was The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which I didn't watch.

The first meal was ok (but fish, so not for me), the second was basic. Drinks were available in the back the whole flight. So that was positive, too. The staff was friendly. The flight was otherwise uneventful. Except that Saarya's seat strongly reeked of urine the entire flight, which made breathing difficult. We only figured out it was the seat about mid-way through (since the entire area stank) and then covered it with a blanket and sat in the next seat which was empty. The seat baskets that held the magazines were ripped; just how old is an Airbus 330 anyway?

Boston airport customs was insane: half of us departed the plane, and the other half waited 15 minutes for some of the customs area to clear a bit before getting to depart. There were endless rope lines to passport and face scanning machines that worked for me and Tal but not for Saarya, so we had to wait in line again.

I got a car through RelayRides, and the guy was waiting for me. That seemed to go well: he seemed nice, the car seems nice, so as long as I don't scrape the car and try to blame him, and he doesn't try to blame me for the existing scrape, we should be good.

It is a nightmare to travel without a phone: no phone, no SMS, no GPS. I pre-printed all of the instructions from Google maps, and even so I kept thinking we were going the wrong way (though we weren't). We won't get SIM cards until Wed.

All in all, not too bad, so thank God.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Status Update - Jerusalem, Book, Vacation

I am happy to be back in Jerusalem, hosting the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club, attending Jerusalem's uniquely Jewish and Israeli divrei torah and poetry slams, in my new apt, valued by my manager at my new job, back in my Carlebach shul, and close to my Jerusalem friends and family.

Despite intense planning for a major apt renovation and for my upcoming trip with the kids, I have, oddly enough, made some progress on my book. A little about the book:

  • It contains a new and original definition of "game", one that, unlike any definition until now, contains no edge-cases: what is a game is clearly a game, and what isn't, isn't.
  • It presents an extensive new taxonomy of games, entirely unlike any game taxonomy that has ever been presented.
  • It continues the subjects I've explored, on this blog and my other blogs: how games intersect life, including motivation, magic circles, gamification, arts, and ethics.
  • It has a few other surprises, including some original games
But it's still a long way from done, even the first draft. At this rate, at least another year. Bleh.

I won't make any progress on the book over my vacation, but I hope to provide some new pictures and travel stories. Tal, Saarya, and I are going to Vermont and Maine for 11 days and then to Rome for 6 days. The trip starts on July 27. If you're in the area, contact me and let's see if we can get together.